MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS) - THE BENEFITS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EXERCISE

Michael Ferma
SENIOR EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGIST & TEAM PERFORMANCE MANAGER
4
Minutes to read

Living with a neurological, auto-immune condition can often be challenging to navigate, specifically in relation to movement and what exercises can be beneficial.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an auto-immune condition that involves the demyelination of axons (put simply - the insulation that separates the messenger pathways) that can affect our central nervous system, resulting in physical changes in our body and how it functions (Noona, Williamson, Henry, et al, 2010). Over 25,000 Australians are currently living with MS.

COMMON MS SYMPTOMS THAT CAN INFLUENCE EXERCISE

It is common for symptoms relating to MS to influence an individual’s ability to complete everyday activities and regular exercise.

Fatigue, or MS related fatigue, is the leading MS symptom (Brown & Kraft, 2005) and can affect woman more than men. This fatigue can be defined as ‘a sense of physical tiredness and lack of energy, distinct from sadness or weakness’.

Another common symptom that can influence exercise tolerances for those living with MS is heat sensitivity. In healthy people, the body naturally has reflexes, like sweating, to maintain a steady core temperature during routine exercise. These reflexes may be impaired in people with MS, and a rise in core temperature of even one degree may be enough to make some people experience heat symptoms (Brown & Kraft, 2005).

Spasticity, which is when muscles ‘stiffen’ or ‘tighten’ is another common symptom in MS (Brown & Kraft, 2005). It is typically worse in the lower than upper extremities and may be more noticeable when a person is fatigued, anxious, in pain, infected, or in hot or cold weather.

It is important to understand that each person will respond differently to an exercise session so monitoring and evaluating physical response may be needed.

Other typical symptoms found in people with MS can include:

  • Balance impairments;
  • Muscle loss or fatigue;
  • Tiredness;
  • Reduced cognition;
  • Decreased cardiovascular fitness;
  • Decreased respiratory function.

If you find these symptoms are a barrier to you exercising, help is available.

BENEFITS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EXERCISE

Research by Asano & Finlayson (2014) on MS fatigue management found that when compared to commonly prescribed fatigue medications, both exercise and educational rehabilitation interventions have a stronger and more significant effect on reducing the impact or severity of patient reported fatigue. These results suggest that exercise and education should be the initial treatment choice for people with MS who are reporting significant levels of fatigue.

Strength training in conjunction with stability training can significantly improve balance capabilities and stability training has been found to be effective to reduce the risk of falling. (Cattaneo et al., 2007).

In conjunction with balance/stability training, a strong focus on resistance training is also important. Resistance training with moderate intensity can induce improvements in muscle strength and function among moderately impaired persons with MS (Halabchi et al, 2017).

WERE YOU CAN GET HELP

Our team of Exercise Physiologists can assist with structuring a well-balanced, evidence-based exercise program for your specific needs. We understand that everyone has their own goals and whether you’ve never exercised before or have tried different avenues in the past, we will work together to reach these.

Exercise for those living with MS is safe and can assist with living better and reducing other comorbidities. Most importantly, we strive to make moving fun and enjoyable, and will create an environment where achieving any goal is celebrated.  

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References:

  1. Noonan CW, Williamson DM, Henry JP, et al. 2010. The prevalence of multiple sclerosis in 3 US communities. Prev. Chronic Dis. 7:A12.
  2. Campbell, J., Simpson, S., Ahmad, H., Taylor, B., van der Mei, I. and Palmer, A., 2019. Change in multiple sclerosis prevalence over time in Australia 2010–2017 utilising disease-modifying therapy prescription data. Multiple Sclerosis Journal, 26(11), pp.1315-1328.
  3. Brown, T. R., & Kraft, G. H. (2005). Exercise and Rehabilitation for Individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 16(2), 513–555. doi:10.1016/j.pmr.2005.01.005
  4. Asano, M., & Finlayson, M. L. (2014). Meta-Analysis of Three Different Types of Fatigue Management Interventions for People with Multiple Sclerosis: Exercise, Education, and Medication. Multiple Sclerosis International, 2014, 1–12. doi:10.1155/2014/798285
  5. Halabchi, F., Alizadeh, Z., Sahraian, M. and Abolhasani, M., 2017. Exercise prescription for patients with multiple sclerosis; potential benefits and practical recommendations. BMC Neurology, 17(1).
  6. Cattaneo D, Jonsdottir J, Zocchi M, Regola A. Effects of balance exercises on people with multiple sclerosis: a pilot study. Clin Rehabil. 2007;21(9):771–781. doi: 10.1177/0269215507077602.

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WE WOULD LIKE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE BOON WURRUNG AND WURUNDJERI PEOPLES OF THE KULIN NATIONS WHO ARE THE CUSTODIANS OF THE LAND ON WHICH WE GATHER. WE PAY OUT RESPECTS TO THEIR ELDERS, PAST, PRESENT AND EMERGING.